Deliberate Practice

A number of years ago Florida State professor Anders Ericsson published a study of individuals that  excelled in their chosen fields of endeavor.   An excellent summary of the article was done by Geoffrey Colvin in Fortune Magazine. Click HERE for the article.

In summary, Ericsson’s conclusion was that acquiring a high skill level in an activity had very little to do with inborn talent and very much to do with hard work and practice. Not any practice but ‘deliberate practice’.  The key though was how he defined ‘deliberate practice’.

In the article Colvin writes, “The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call “deliberate practice.” It’s activity that’s explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.

For example: Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate practice, which is why most golfers don’t get better. Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day – that’s deliberate practice.

I see this consistently in model railroading.  I’ll be contacted by somebody that has been in the hobby for some time that, for one reason or another, has decided they want to improve their modeling or photography.  They usually send me photos at the first contact and then follow up every several months.  For many months the results look pretty much the same as they plug along trying to improve.  Then, in a matter of weeks some magical switch seems to flip and they go from being a good modeler or photographer to an exceptional one.   Had they just kept going along using the same techniques and mindset they would not have improved.  However, these folks were very deliberate.  They read up on new techniques, sought feedback, analyzed their efforts, read books, and spent a fair amount of time at the work bench (or behind a camera).   It wasn’t just the time they spent modeling or doing photography it was that they ‘deliberately practiced’.